Compared to the Mediterranean, Muslim and Chinese civilizations, northwestern Europe in the 16th century was considered technically and culturally, backward. They seemed an unlikely candidate for future economic leadership of the world. Yet it was there that the changes took place that propelled it into the forefront of world development.

Agriculture played a central role. The improved climate from 700 to 1200 in Western Europe led to an agricultural revolution andan impressive growth in population, whereby towns and trade grew and created money economy. The warrior nobility established a European feudalism that ensured the loyalty of vassals and introduced technological changes. There were new farming devices, like the use of the heavy plough, widespread use of iron and horses, and crop rotation, and the use of mills for processing cloth, brewing beer, crushing pulp for paper manufacture. 

Further, Northwestern Europe was the origin and heartland of the Protestant Reformationof the 16th century. German Max Weber(1864-1920) suggested that Roman Catholicism and Eastern religions were essentially otherworldly religions. Protestantism,on the other hand, was predominantly a this-worldly religion. Protestantism nurtured the rationalistcultureand the scientific habits of mind,and applied the scientific methodof observation, hypothesis, experimentation, and verification not only to nature but also to society. 

The geopoliticsof an imperialist powerdetermined the colonialpractices of either settler colonialismor of exploitative colonialism. The exploitative type of colonialismconquered a country to exploitits natural resourcesand its native population for the immediate financial gain by a colonial government, which followed mercantilismdesigned to strengthen the home economy at the expense of rivals, and trade only with the mother country.

England was engaged during the 16th century in two kind of settlement of Ireland. Thefirst was the "exemplary plantation", in which small colonies of English would provide model-farming communities that the Irish could emulate. The second was punitive in nature, as it provided for the plantation of English settlers on lands confiscated following the suppression of rebellions.

The word "colony" comes from the Latin colonia—"a place for agriculture". The British imperialism often used the concept of Terra nullius(Latin from Roman lawmeaning 'empty land'). British settlement and colonial rule of Australiawas premised on terra nullius, as its settlers considered it unused by its Aboriginal inhabitants. Colonialism implies geographic separation between the colony and the imperial power. Hence, the Russian, Ottoman and Austrian Empires, which did not expand over oceans but through the conquest of neighbouring territories, are excluded from colonialism. The EgyptiansPhoeniciansGreeks and Romans,all built colonies in antiquity.

TheOttomans tookover the eastern Mediterraneanand closed the overland trade routes by the 14th century. Therefore the Europeans had to find new trade routes.

In 1453, the Turks ended the Byzantine Empire, which resulted in the migration ofByzantineGreek scholars to Europe and the rediscovery and revival of Greekand Romanart, literature, philosophy, and science - known as the Renaissance “rebirth” or “reawakening” in Europe- and Leonardo da Vinci(1452-1519) andMichelangelo(1475-1564) became models of the Renaissance man.

Martin Luther started the Reformation on 31 October 1517 when he published his Ninety-Five Theses. His friend, Lucas Cranach the Elder(1472–1553), the painter, illustrated it for a popular audience. The use of metal movable typein the printing presssince 1439 provided the means of rapid dissemination. The clergy was made subject to the civil law, and the " Word of God" was preached in the churches and taught in the schools in the mother tongue. The separation of the Church of Englandfrom Rome underHenry VIIIbegan in 1529 and was completed by 1537.

Copernicus (1473-1543) came out with the thesis that earth was not flat but round, and revolved round the Sun. This was supported by the planetary observations of Galileo Galilee (1564-1642).

In 1492, the last Muslim kingdom of Granada in Spain surrendered to the Catholic Monarchs of Spain, who financed Italian explorer Christopher Columbus(1451-1506) from Genoato explore a western route to Asia. He made four trips across the Atlantic Ocean from Spain in 1492, 1493, 1498 and 1502. Columbus's first two voyages (1492–93) reached the Bahamas and Caribbean islands. He visited the coast of Venezuelaand Central Americaover the course of two more voyages,building colonies across oceans that differentiated colonialism from other types of expansionism.

As the sponsor of Christopher Columbus's voyages, Spain was the first European power to settle and colonize the largest areas, from North to South America. By mining gold and silver in the New World, the European trading companies began to change the terms of trade that were then used to barter and other types of exchange. This led to a Commercial Revolution,which saw reforms in accountancy and banking in Italy and the eastern Mediterranean.

Further, the diets of people in the Old World were transformed. Maize and potato, which were previously unknown, became dietary staples. New vegetables, such as tomatoes, peppers and pumpkin appeared. Fruits like, avocados, pineapples, guavas and papayas. Sugar-rich plants such as sugar maple. Protein-rich legumes such as beans. Nuts and peanuts provided oil and fat. Cocoa led to chocolate, and tobacco was cultivated in Europe for the first time. 

In 1496 King Henry VII of England, commissioned John Cabotto lead a voyage to discover a route to Asia via the North Atlantic. Cabot sailed in 1497, and landed on the coast of Newfoundland, mistakenly believing, like Christopher Columbus, that he had reached Asia. 

In 1488, a Portuguese nobleman, Bartolomeu Diaz (1450-1500),sailed around Africa by rounding the Cape of Good Hope, which he named the Cape of Storms, where he died on 29 May 1500 in a storm. Vasco da Gama(1460-1524) made the first voyage from Europe to India and reached Calicut in India on 20 May 1498. In 1509, the Portuguese under Francisco de Almeida won the battle of Diu against a joint Mamluk and Arab fleet sent to expel the Portuguese from the Arabian Sea.Afonso de Albuquerque(1453-1515) established forts at strategic sites, which would dominate the trade routes and protect Portuguese interests on land. He seized Goa on the coast of India in 1510, which Portugal held until 1961. He captured Malacca in 1511, which controlled the narrow strait through which most Far Eastern trade moved. In 1557, China decided to lease Macau to the Portuguese, which they held until 1999. The Portuguese also became the first Westerners to visit Japan. This contact introduced Christianity and firearms into Japan.

Thus Europeans started to carry on trade from forts in Asia, acting as foreign merchants rather than as settlers as in Americas that were treated as political extensions of the mother countries.

The first demonstration of Earth's sphericity came from the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan(1480-1521), who departed from Sevillewith five ships on August 10, 1519. He crossed the Atlantic Ocean, passed through what is now called the Strait of Magellanunder South America, crossed the Pacific, and arrived in the Philippines, where he was killed; but his second in command, the Spaniard Juan Sebastian Elcano,continued the expedition and, on September 6, 1522, arrived at Seville, completing the circumnavigation of the world. In 1565, cargoes of Chinese goods were transported from the Philippinesto Mexico and from there to Spain. Spanish officials converted the islands to Christianity.The arrival of the Portuguese and Spanish and their holy wars against Muslim states in the Malayan–Portuguese warSpanish–Moro conflict and Castilian Warinflamed religious tensions and turned Southeast Asia into an arena of conflict between Muslims and Christians.Portuguese decline in Asia was due to attacks on their commercial empire by the Dutch and the English, which lasted until the end of the Seven Years' War in 1763.

The Virginia Companyfounded England's first permanent settlement in the Americas at Jamestownin 1607. Bermudawas settled and claimed by England in 1609. Fleeing from religious persecutionwas the motive of many English would-be colonists: Plymouth, for example was founded as a haven forPuritanreligious separatists in 1620. Marylandwas founded as a haven for Roman Catholics in 1634.Rhode Island was founded in 1636 as a colony tolerant of all religions, and Connecticut in 1639 for Congregationalists. The Province of Carolinawas founded in 1663. 

In 1655, England annexed the island of Jamaicafrom the Spanish, and in 1666 succeeded in colonising the Bahamas.The Caribbeanprovided England with lucrative colonies, where it adopted the sugar plantationssystem used by the Portuguese in Brazil, based on slave labour.

With the surrender of Fort Amsterdam, England gained control of the Dutch colony of New Netherlandin 1664, renaming it New York. In 1681, the colony of Pennsylvaniawas founded by the Oxford educated Quaker missionary and writer, William Pennof No Cross NO Crown.The American colonies were less financially successful than those of the Caribbean, but had large areas of good agricultural land, which attracted far larger numbers of English emigrants, who preferred its temperate climate.

The Royal African Companywas founded in 1660 in London, receiving from King Charles a monopoly of the trade to supply slaves to the British colonies. Britain was responsible for the transportation of 3.5 million African slaves to the Americas - a third of all slaves transported across the Atlantic.In the British Caribbean, the percentage of the population of African descent rose from 25% in 1650 to around 80% in 1780, and in the Thirteen Colonies from 10% to 40% over the same period (the majority in the southern colonies), The slave trade was extremely profitable, and became a major economic mainstay for westernBritish citiessuch as Bristoland Liverpool.

The English East India Companywas founded on 31 December 1600, which competed with Portugal and the Netherlands for trade and colonial power. It acquired Madrasin 1639 and quickly surpassed Portuguese Goa as the principal European trading centre on the Indian Subcontinent. The hostilities with the Netherlands ceased after the Glorious Revolutionof 1688, when the Dutch William of Orangeascended the English throne, bringing peace between the Netherlands and England. A deal between the two nations left the spice trade of the East Indies to the Netherlands and the textiles industry of India to England, but textiles soon overtook spices in terms of profitability, and in terms of sales, the British company had overtaken the Dutch by 1720. 

The Seven Years' War(1756–1763) involving France, Britain and the other major European powers, ended in the Treaty of Paris (1763). France accepted British claims to Rupert's Land, and ceded New Franceto Britain and Louisianato Spain. Spain ceded Florida to Britain. The Seven Years' War therefore left Britain as the world's most powerful maritime power. It alsomarked the end of the French stake in India.

The great Mughal Empire crumbled after the death of Aurangzeb (1618-1707), though the Mughals kept the imperial title until 1858. Robert Cliveof the English East IndiaCompany in India, defeated the ruler of Bengal at the Battle of Plassey(1757). And the Company acquired the administration of Bengal from the Mughal Emperor Shah Alam IIafter the Battle of Buxarin 1764.

The American Revolutionary War and the Latin American wars of independencereduced thespread of colonial empires in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Thethirteen British coloniesin America declared independence for theUnited States of Americain 1776. The entry of Franceinto the war in 1778 tipped the military balance in the favour of Americans and American independence was acknowledged at the Peace of Parisin 1783. 

Since 1718, transportationto the American colonies had been a penalty for various offences in Britain, with approximately one thousand convicts transported per year across the Atlantic.After the loss of the Thirteen Colonies in 1783, the British government turned to the newly discovered Australia as an alternative location for convicts.

In 1770 James Cookon a scientific voyageto the South Pacific Ocean, claimed the continent of Australia for Britain, and named it New South Wales.In 1778, Joseph Banks, Cook's botaniston the voyage, presented evidence to the government on the suitability of Botany Bayfor the establishment of a penal settlement, and in 1787 the first shipment of convictsset sail, arriving in 1788. Britain continued to transport convicts to New South Walesuntil 1840. The Australian colonies became profitable exporters of wool and gold, mainly because of gold rushes in the colony of Victoria, making its capital Melbournefor a time the richest city in the world and the second largest city (after London) in the British Empire.

During his voyage, Cook also visited New Zealand, first discovered by Dutch explorer Abel Tasmanin 1642, and claimed the Northand Southislands for the British crownin 1769 and 1770 respectively. On 6 February 1840, Captain William Hobsonand around 40 Maori chiefs signed the Treaty of Waitangi, which is considered by many to be New Zealand's founding document.

Britain was challenged again by France under Napoleon, who threatened to invade Britain itself. French ports were blockaded by the Royal Navy, which won against a Franco-Spanish fleet at Trafalgarin 1805. Overseas colonies were attacked and occupied, including those of the Netherlands, which was annexed by Napoleon in 1810. France was finally defeated by a coalition of European armies in 1815. France ceded the Ionian IslandsMalta,MauritiusSaint Lucia, and Tobago; Spain ceded Trinidad; the Netherlands Guyana, and the Cape Colony. Britain returned Guadeloupe, Martinique, French Guiana, and Réunionto France, and Javaand Surinameto the Netherlands, and gained control of Ceylon(1795–1815).

The Scottish economist, philosopher and author, Adam Smith(1723-1790) published Wealth of Nationsin 1776, which argued that Britain should grant independence to its colonies as it would be economically beneficial for British people, and that free tradeshould replace the mercantilistpolicies. 

The growth of trade between the newly independent United Statesand Britain after 1783 confirmed Smith's view that political control was not necessary for economic success.About 350,000 people had emigrated from England across the Atlantic by the end of the 17th century. And by 1798, North America and the West Indies received 57 per cent of British exports, and supplied 32 per cent of imports.

Britain acquired economic momentum from the pursuit of science and industry. The share of men employed in agriculture fell from 60 percent to about 25 percent, while the share of those employed in industry rose from less than 20 percent to nearly 50 percent. Between 1700 and 1850, England’s population surged from between 6 and 7 million to nearly 21 million. Industrial output, which had increased by less than 1 percent per year in the first half of the 18th century, was rising by nearly 3 percent per year by the early part of the 19th century. By 1901, the year of Queen Victoria’s death, the census recorded three quarters of the population as urban (two thirds in cities of 10,000 or more and half in cities of 20,000 or more). In the span of a century a rural societyhad become an urban one.

The Industrial Revolution marks a major turning point in history. In the two centuries following 1800, the world's average per capita income increased over tenfold, while the world's population increased over six fold. For the first time in history, the living standards of the masses of ordinary people have begun to undergo sustained growth. 

The Industrial Revolutionin Great Britainestablished the economic pattern of the modern world, wherebywork is increasingly done by machines rather than by hand; human and animal power are replaced by inanimate sources of energy, such as coal and oil; the creation of a free market in labourby the freeing of the labourer from feudal and customary ties and obligations, and the concentration of workers in single, comprehensive enterprises, the factory; and a pivotal role for a specific social type, the entrepreneur.

Protestant individualism and the scientific revolution were preconditions of industrialism.Individualismand secularism alsoprovoked political revolutions in America and France. However, many new colonies were established, including theGermanand Belgian colonial empires. And in the late 19th century, the European powers scrambled for control of Africa, beginning with the French occupation of Algeria. By the beginning of the 20th century, France had created an empire in Indochinanearly 50 percent larger than the mother country.

The Europeans had discovered African slaveryby Arabs as a means of creating an inexpensive labour force for the colonies. In the early modern period, 10 to 12 million Africans were taken in this way to the New World, from where colonial produce was transported to Europe.With the advent of the Industrial Revolution, goods produced by slavery became less important to the British economy. The British Parliamentenacted the Slave Trade Actin 1807, which abolished the slave tradein the empire.The Slavery Abolition Act, abolished slavery in the British Empire on 1 August 1834.

The labour shortage that resulted inspired European colonizers to develop a new source of labour. Indentured servantsconsented to a contract with the European colonizers. Under their contract, the servant would work for an employer for a term of at least a year on a wage, while the employer agreed to pay for the servant's voyage to the colony and for the return to the country of origin. India and China were the largest source of indentured servants during the colonial era. Between 1830 and 1930, around 30 million indentured servants were taken from India to the colonies, and 24 million returned to India. China sent more indentured servants and around the same proportion returned to China.

By 1914, millions of Europeans also migrated to the colonies. British people were the most numerous migrating to the colonies: 2.5 million settled in Canada; 1.5 million in Australia; 750,000 in New Zealand; 450,000 in the Union of South Africa; and 200,000 in India. French citizens also migrated in large numbers, mainly to the colonies in the north African Maghrebregion: 1.3 million settled in Algeria; 200,000 in Morocco; 100,000 in Tunisia; while only 20,000 migrated to French Indochina. Dutch and German colonies saw relatively scarce European migration, since Dutch and German colonial expansion focused on commercial goals rather than settlement. Portugal sent 150,000 settlers to Angola, 80,000 to Mozambique, and 20,000 to Goa. During the time of the Spanish Empire, approximately 550,000 Spanish settlers migrated to Latin America.

The world's colonial population at the time of the First World War totaled about 560 million people, of whom 70.0% were in British domains, 10.0% in French, 8.6% in Dutch, 3.9% in Japanese, 2.2% in German, 2.1% in American, 1.6% in Portuguese, 1.2% in Belgian and 1/2 of 1% in Italian possessions. The home domains of the colonial powers had a total population of about 370 million people.

The period between 1815 and 1914 is referred to as Britain's "imperial century", as around 10,000,000 square miles (26,000,000 km2) of territory and roughly 400 million people were added to the British Empire.Victory over Napoleon left Britain without any serious international rival, other than Russia in Central Asia. Unchallenged at sea, Britain adopted the role of global policeman, known as thePax Britannica. Alongside the formal control it exerted over its own colonies, Britain's dominant position in world trade meant that it effectively controlled the economies of many countries, such as China, Argentinaand Siam, which has been described by some historians as an "Informal Empire".

The steamshipand the telegraph, new technologies invented in the second half of the 19th century, allowing it to control and defend the empire.By 1902, the British Empire was linked together by a network of telegraph cables, called the All Red Line.

The East IndiaCompany's army had first joined forces with the Royal Navy during the Seven Years' War. The two continued to co-operate in the eviction of the French from Egypt(1799), the capture of Javafrom the Netherlands (1811), the acquisition of Singapore(1819) and Malacca(1824) and in the defeat of Burma(1826).

The East IndiaCompany had also been engaged in an increasingly profitable opiumexport trade to China since the 1730s. This helped reverse the trade imbalancesresulting from the British imports of tea, which saw large outflows of silver from Britain to China. In 1839, the confiscation by the Chinese authorities at Cantonof 20,000 chests of opium led Britain to attack China in the First Opium War, and to seizeHong Kong Island.

During the 19th century, Britain and the Russian Empirevied to fill the power vacuums that had been left by the declining Ottoman, Persian and Chinese Empire. This rivalry in Central Asia came to be known as the "Great Game" and stoked fears in Britain of an overland invasion of India. When Russia invaded the Turkish Balkansin 1853, fears of Russian dominance in the Mediterraneanand Middle East led Britain and France to invade the Crimeato destroy Russian naval capabilities. 

The Dutch East India Company had founded the Cape Colonyon thesouthern tip of Africa in 1652 as a way station for its ships travelling to and from its colonies in theEast Indies. Britain formally acquired the colony, and its large Afrikaner(or Boer) population in 1795 to prevent its falling into French hands. British immigration pushed thousands of Boers, resentful of British rule, northwards to found their own independent republics.

In 1869 the Suez Canalopened under Napoleon III, linking the Mediterranean with the Indian Ocean. In 1875, the Conservativegovernment of Benjamin Disraelibought the indebted Egyptian ruler Isma'il Pasha's44% shareholding in the Suez Canal for £4 million (£340 million in 2013). The Joint Anglo-French financial control over Egypt ended in outright British occupation in 1882. 

The Berlin Conferenceof 1884–85 was held to regulate the competition between the European powers in what was called the "Scramble for Africa" by defining "effective occupation" as the criterion for international recognition of territorial claims.[128]The scramble continued into the 1890s, and caused Britain to reconsider its decision in 1885 to withdraw from Sudan. A joint force of British and Egyptian troops defeated the Mahdi’s Armyin 1896, and rebuffed an attempted French invasion at Fashodain 1898. Sudan was nominally made an Anglo-Egyptian condominium, but a British colony in reality.

British gains in Southernand East Africaprompted Cecil Rhodes, pioneer of British expansion in Southern Africa, to urge a "Cape to Cairo" railway linking the strategically important Suez Canalto the mineral-rich south of the continent. During the 1880s and 1890s, Rhodes, with his privately owned British South Africa Companyoccupied and annexedterritories subsequently named after him, Rhodesia.

The 1839 Durham Report, proposed unification and self-government for Upperand Lower Canada. Australia and New Zealand achieved self-government after 1900. The term "dominion status" was introduced at the Colonial Conference of 1907. The last decades of the 19th century saw political campaignsfor Irish home rule. Meanwhile, the Indian National Congresswas formed in 1885, initially loyal to the Empire but committed from 1905 to increased self-government, and to outright independence by 1930.

Britain occupied most of Germany's overseas colonies in Africa at the outbreak of the First World War(1914-1918), Australia and New Zealand occupied German New Guineaand Samoain the Pacific. Under the terms of Treaty of Versaillessigned in 1919, the empire reached its greatest extent with the addition of 1,800,000 square miles (4,700,000 km2) and 13 million new subjects.

The colonies of Germany and the Ottoman Empirewere distributed to the Allied powers as League of Nations mandates. Whilst the bulk of the Arabian Peninsula became the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. French mandates included Syriaand Lebanon, Britain gained control of PalestineTransjordanIraq, parts of Cameroonand Togoland, and Tanganyika. The Union of South Africagained South West Africa (modern-day Namibia), Australia gained New Guinea, and New Zealand, Western SamoaNauruwas made a combined mandate of Britain and the two Pacific Dominion. 

The colonies were a major cause of World War II.The war in the Pacific was caused by Japan's efforts to create a colonial empire in place of the existing empires held by the British, French, Dutch and the United States. The war in Europe and North Africa was caused partially by Germany and Italy's efforts to create colonial empires that sought to conquer existing British, French and Russian colonial empires in these areas

Although the British Empire emerged victorious from the Second World War, but Europe that had dominated the world for several centuries, was in ruins, and overrun over by the armies of the United States and the Soviet Union, who now held the balance of global power. Britain was left bankrupt, with insolvency only averted in 1946 after the negotiation of a $US 4.33 billion loanfrom the United States, the last installment of which was repaid in 2006. 

Therefore decolonization progressed rapidly after World War II. Firstlytheimage of the European was shattered by the Japanese occupation of British, French and Dutch territories in the East during the Second World War. Second, many colonial powers were significantly weakened by World War II.It led to the growth of independence movements in the colonies. Britain adopted a policy of peaceful disengagement from its colonies in contrast to other European powers such as France and Portugal, who waged costly and ultimately unsuccessful wars to keep their empires intact.

The first wave of European expansion involved exploring the world to find new revenue and perpetuating European feudalism.The Spanish and Portuguese launched the colonisation of the Americas. Britain, France and the Netherlands followed them into Caribbean and North America.

The second wave focused on developing the mercantile capitalism system and the manufacturing industry in Europe, which commenced with Britain's involvement in Asia followed by France, Portugal and the Netherlands.

The last wave of European colonialism solidified capitalism by providing new markets and raw materials, regulated by the terms of the Berlin Conference of 1884–1885, whereby vast regions of Africa came under the sway of Britain, France, Germany, Portugal, Belgium, Italy and Spain.

The USA assumed Britain's role as the "global hegemon" in the 20th century, and continue globalization as "anglobalisation".  Advances in transportation(such as the jet engineand container ships) and in telecommunications(including the Internetand mobile phones) have been major factors in globalization, generating interdependenceof economicand cultural activities. 

The industrialization changed western society. In preindustrial or nonindustrial society the familyis the basic unit of production. In a typical example from early 18th-century England, the man might be a weaver and his wife a spinner, with the younger children acting as assistants in the joint domestic enterprise. Industrialization movedproductionaway from the household to the factory, and the family was reduced to a unit of consumption. The small nuclear familyfaced the impersonal, large-scale, bureaucratic world of work, adolescent alienation and teenage rebellion. Divorcerates soared. And one-parent families, headed by a woman, came into existence.

Tocqueville had warned that individuals lacking strong intermediate institutions might look to the protection of strong men and strong governments. The rise and success of totalitarian movements in some industrial societies showed that the tendencies were real and were present in some degree in all-modern societies. 

The Americanand Frenchrevolutions had brought about a constitutionaland democraticsociety, whereby no political systemcould claim legitimacy that was not in some sensebased on the will of the people, constitutionally expressed. Unfortunately the new democratic legitimation was also claimed by popular or constitutional dictatorships such as those of Napoleon III in France or Adolf Hitler in Germany.   

Karl Marx was convinced that capitalism would throw up two main economic classes, the property less workers, or proletariat, and the capitalist or bourgeoisie owners, which would result in victory for the proletariat, who would establish a conflict free, classless society.Marx’s prediction has not come about because ethnic, religious, and regional ties have submerged those based on economic interest.

And the discovery of the world's largest easily accessible crude oil deposits led to an influx of western oil companies,making leaders of the oil states immensely rich, enabling them to consolidate their hold on power and giving them a stake in preserving Western hegemony over the region.

It is interesting that those countries, which emulated and adopted the British economic and social pattern in its entirety, became independent and powerful economically like Europe, USA and Japan, but those Asian, African and South American countries, which only borrowed technology, have remained backward and dependent on the west.